You know Rhys Darby. You know him as the ever “present” Flight of the Conchords band manager Murray, and the non-playable character guide Nigel in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and The Next Level. You likely know him as a werewolf in What We Do in the Shadows film, and as a were-person in The X-Files revival. You might not know it, but you also know him as the voices of Coran, Princess Allura’s royal advisor on Voltron: Legendary Defender, and as a robot sidekick in the new Disney+ game show The Big Fib. From Jim Carrey’s boss Norm in Yes Man, to Psycho Sam in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he is just one of those actors you know whose characters are often described as zany, quirky, eccentric.
But you may not really know Rhys Darby.
More than a decade before he first came to the attention of American audiences as the woefully under informed Murray on Conchords, the comedian served in the New Zealand Army as signaller who handled classified communiques. Long before that, he was an Auckland-born kid fascinated with the weird, and into Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and The Usborne World of the Unknown: Monsters children’s book. This is the same Rhys Darby who previously hosted The Cryptid Factor cryptozoology podcast, and now leads Aliens Like Us, the UFO and extraterrestrial-themed podcast distributed exclusively on Spotify.
And despite the comedy of Aliens Likes Us, which includes songs and short sketches, Darby isn’t playing around when it comes to the otherworldly corner of paranormal pop culture – because this is stuff that’s been ingrained in him since his youth.
“Right from an early age I had a fascination with the weird,” says Darby in a recent video call from his home in New Zealand. “I like to think it’s because I felt like I was out of place in this world right back to my birth, and my existence being a mistake in the family – a 9-year gap between the rest of the siblings and myself.”
Carrying around a question of, “What am I doing here?” Darby says he found comfort researching other things that perhaps weren’t supposed to exist, or which remained unknown. Within books such as the “Usborne” series, he found he was especially drawn to the “blur” between what is real, or what could be real, and the unknown.
“OK, so we haven’t completed this puzzle called earth; there’s still adventure to be had,” he says. “There’s still mysteries to be solved, and all of a sudden, I felt like I could do that.”
However, Darby says his mission to solve those mysteries took a backseat to figuring out life. He says he maintained an avid interest in the weird, but didn’t really make it well known because he was “weird enough as it is,” and dressed in bizarre clothes through his teens, and into his twenties. He then enlisted in the army for four years – which he acknowledges was the complete opposite of a weird institution — when The X-Files debuted, and initially missed much of what he calls “the perfect show for me.”
But as an established actor, Darby says it has fallen into place, and he can now spend his spare time “to turn this little obsession in the back of my head into a hobby.” And into a podcast.
As he matured, and moved about in the entertainment industry, he says he wasn’t so concerned about bringing up the topic of UFOs any longer.
“I was already known as the weird Kiwi comedian, so that helped,” he says. “It wasn’t a great stretch to realize that I’m probably into the unknown, and I let it be obvious sitting in green rooms, in comedy clubs … It was kind of like, ‘Oh, of course he’s into that’.”
Darby jokes that being in entertainment with big personalities and big imaginations isn’t the same as being a dentist who may shock patients if they see the UFO photo in their office. As such, he says about 50 percent of the actors he speaks with about the paranormal are into it on some level — and will talk about it because they aren’t afraid of ridicule (since many already faced that throughout their lives). Still, he says he hopes he has helped to remove any stigma from the subject matter in social environments of entertainers.
In terms of entertainers, he had director Taika Waititi (who directed Wilderpeople, Shadows, and four Conchords episodes) on The Cryptid Factor in 2013. He also would chat about the paranormal with Conchords costar Jemaine Clement, and they discussed the nefarious Men In Black phenomena when Clement was cast in the third entry of the movie franchise of the same name. Though Clement is a skeptic, Darby says his friend’s 10-year-old son is a fan of cryptids, and “has been sending me videos of LEGO cryptid scenes he’s been making.”
Darby as a champion for fellow weirdos — and low-key evangelist against the social stigma that comes with believing in UFOs, aliens, and the like — is noteworthy because it’s also part of the mission of Aliens Like Us. Along with co-host Buttons and producer Ethan, he delicately balances the show’s comedic elements with an enthusiast’s approach to the material, and without mocking guests or sometimes eccentric listeners who leave voicemails detailing alien abduction.
“We’re one of the few podcasts in this ufology world that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the same time takes the subject matter seriously, [but] obviously being a comedian, people are expecting me to be funny.”
Darby says he unlocked that balance with Buttons, his friend for 25 years, and cohost on The Cryptid Factor. He says he provides the comedy, but believes humans can handle serious — even scary — material while also finding the laughs in any situation. Plus, he thinks he can win over people not into the paranormal with this formula.
“We pull an audience in that would definitely not be interested in cryptozoology for the most part; It’s like, ‘What is that? I’m listening for the laughs’ … And then a few episodes in, people start to go, ‘Hang on, they’re really taking this subject matter seriously. They believe it,’ and, ‘God, these guys are weird, but you know what? I’m starting to believe it as well’.”
With Aliens Like Us, in particular, this approach allows die-hard paranormal fans to take part in a conversation on topics they’re familiar with, while the uninitiated can learn about notable UFO cases such as Rendlesham Forest Incident, and the Pascagoula Abduction. Darby adds it is likewise important to book notable guests from the ufology community – Whitley Strieber, Nick Pope, Richard Dolan, Brooks Agnew, and even celebrities Jack Osbourne, and Jim Jefferies – who have engaging personalities in addition to knowing their way around the weird.
When it comes to the contactee voicemails, Darby says he sits comfortably on the fence by simply allowing listeners to call in with their stories, without fear of judgement – and without even having to interact with another person. It is then up to the audience to decide what they think.
Still, does Darby think stories he’s played of alleged alien impregnation are too much for a mainstream podcast audience tuning in to hear a comedian host? Not so much.
“When you go into the subject matter of ufology, you have to go all the way, so you can’t really have a line where you go, ‘That’s a step too far for me’ because some of the strangest cases have the weirdest things happen in them.”
Going all the way with strange cases can involve thinking about ancient aliens, as well as the existence of other, possibly interdimensional, entities. He jokingly dismisses the existence of unicorns – which he says might lead to angry letters from a Unicorn Association – but says there are so many compelling stories of beings that are not simply classic Gray aliens. In response to a question about famed investigator John Keel, and the notion that other phenomena are connected, Darby says he likewise believes things are linked.
“I think it makes total sense that, especially with the cryptids, they come from somewhere else or they’re hiding underneath the earth,” he says. “Now the real question is, are they interdimensional or are they coming from our own dimension but far away? And I think I’m definitely leaning towards interdimensional. I believe there’s a lot of different universes … that’s one of the things that excites me about the possible existence of Sasquatches is that they can come through from another world.”
As far as what’s happening on this world, Darby says he’s excited to look ahead at new cases as we move – hopefully — towards “Disclosure,” the term used to describe governments showing their cards with regards to knowledge of extraterrestrial life. (One need only look at mainstream reports in The New York Times, and footage labeled by the Department of Defense as “unidentifiable,” to understand why this is a hot topic that is increasingly ablaze.)
“I think we’re slowly shifting; we’ve definitely turned a corner with these US Navy videos that have been released proving that these things are real,” he says. “We’re at the point now where we know they’re real, and we know they’re happening, and we know that they’re not us.”
[Author aside: Darby’s next quote is the kind that makes most UFO geeks such as yours truly nod excitedly.]
“At least not ‘us’ from the future. Who knows? But we know they’re not us from now. Or at least a lot of them aren’t. The case is still out there that there’s highly top secret craft that, particularly the US, have through back-engineering that are up there. And I believe there’s definitely a mixture of that along with ET craft that isn’t from here at all.”
Darby also predicts that once the pandemic threat passes, and life returns to a semblance of normalcy, the Trump Administration’s so-called Space Force might be accompanied by some intriguing technological reveals.
“This time next year they’re going to be admitting and showing us what they’ve actually got in terms of spacecraft,” Darby says. “The Secret Space Program will be revealed to a certain extent, and they’ll suddenly say, ‘Oh, and we’ve got these things now that we’re going to be flying up in the sky with,’ and they’ll be triangular craft, or something like that. I firmly believe that this is sort of a slow leak on the SSP with this Space Force situation.”
Though that revelation may not come anytime soon, Rhys Darby says he will continue his own exploration into the unknown in the meanwhile. You know Rhys Darby as a werewolf, were-person, wilderpeople, conchord, video game avatar, and robot sidekick, and now he’s inviting you to get to know him as a podcast host, and wants to introduce you to Aliens Like Us.
You can listen to Aliens Like us Here:
Special thanks to our audio partners at Soundstripe. All music in our video interview with Rhys Darby is licensed from Soundstripe.com, which provides stock music for creators, with plans starting at $11.25 / month. For 10% off, use coupon code “DENOFGEEK10” at checkout.